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Home Blog How to help an employee with a drug or alcohol problem

How to help an employee with a drug or alcohol problem

Posted by David Williams
on 14 Nov 2019

Ensuring your company is well equipped to help an employee with a drug or alcohol problem is something best achieved if it is considered and planned for before a problem actually comes to light.

It is a matter of workplace culture, procedure and policy and achieved through being:

  • A supportive, compassionate and open employer.
  • Drawing up effective drug and alcohol policies and procedures and ensuring staff are aware of the help on offer.
  • Having and sharing a strategy on what to do if a drink or drug problem comes to light among your workforce.
  • Knowing and believing in the value of supporting employees to overcome drug and alcohol issues.

Why support and compassion matters when helping an employee who is misusing alcohol or drugs

Having an understanding and informed attitude towards alcohol and drug misuse and addiction is the first step to supporting an employee. 

Employers who recognise that addiction and substance and alcohol abuse are issues with which individuals need support and understanding to overcome are best placed to support their staff to get well.

Blame, judgement, stigma and reprisal add to alcohol and substance misuse issues and are more likely to drive addiction and alcoholism underground and cause them to become more entrenched before help is sought.

Ensuring you are in a position to positively help employees who have drug or alcohol problems begins long before the issue comes to light either via a confession or incident. 

Setting out supportive policies and procedures and making staff aware of them means employees understand you are a safe place to turn for help and support. It also means they are more likely to do so earlier, minimising the impact and damage of their problem on themselves, others and your business.

As Delamere’s advisory board member workplace wellness expert Professor Sir Cary Cooper has said in the past this isn’t just about being nice – it’s also about protecting the bottom line.

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As far back as 2009/10 it was estimated that £7.3 billion per year was lost in productivity costs due to alcohol consumption both due to absenteeism and presenteeism – when a worker is present but not working at full speed.

How to create effective workplace drug and alcohol policies

The Health and Safety Executive says an effective drug and alcohol policy should have the goal of helping and supporting employees rather than focus on dismissal.

Clearly there are also issues of risk that need to be balanced in terms of risk of harm to individuals, other staff and the wider public, as well as legal responsibilities in regard to those things.

Drugs and alcohol policies ought to consider and cover the following areas:

  • Why the policy exists
  • Who the policy applies to
  • Who has responsibility for implementing the policy
  • The rules around how the company expects employers to behave in terms of drink and drug use in relation to them performing their jobs
  • Any exceptions (such as during certain meetings or events)
  • A statement laying out that confidentiality will be a priority when drug and alcohol problems come to light
  • A description of the help and support available to employees who have drink or substance misuse issues – ensure this is well researched and comprehensive
  • The circumstances in which disciplinary action will be taken 

Employees need to know about your drug and alcohol policies and be able to access them.

It is wise to build in something about these policies to your induction process and to ensure staff and, particularly, managers are well informed about them.

Training managers to recognise signs of symptoms of alcoholism and other addictions and what to do if they are concerned for someone is also vital. 

What to do when a staff members’ alcohol or drug issues come to light

Firstly, it’s vital that employees know they can come to you if they have an issue with drink or drugs and they will be treated with compassion and understanding.

Creating effective policies and procedures in relation to alcohol and drugs and having a process for sharing them with staff is paramount in ensuring this is the case.

When you do become aware of a drink or drug problem within a staff member there are various steps you’ll need to take both to protect yourself as an employer and to best help the member of staff.

young drunk businessman sleeping on bar counter while colleagues standing behind in bar

Carrying out those obligations with the continued attitude of support and empathy may make a crucial difference to the future of the individual and impact on your business.

The right approach from an employer dealing with a staff member who has a drink or drug problem may be the first step toward that individual finding a way forward to recovery and potentially rebuilding their lives as well as, perhaps, continuing to be a valuable employee

An unhelpful or unsupportive attitude and response from an employee may see a staff member continuing to struggle with addiction and even seeing their problems further escalate.

Professional HR or legal advice is key when dealing with an employee who may have a drink or drugs issue, but practical steps to consider may include: 

  • Speaking privately to your staff member as soon as possible
  • allowing your employee the opportunity to give reasons for any problems that have arisen and questioning whether a health problem may be involved, without specifically mentioning alcohol or drugs
  • keeping accurate, confidential records of concerns including poor performance or attendance issues
  • where appropriate, discussing your alcohol and drugs policy and reminding the staff member of the help available within and outside of your organisation
  • agreeing next steps with your staff member
  • arranging further meetings to discuss any further problems and check in on how the staff member is doing. 

Having a good understanding of the help available for staff should they have an addiction issue, keeping in touch and even, where appropriate and it is consented to, being active in helping to connect a person with that help will make a massive difference.

What is the value of supporting an employee who has a drug or alcohol issue?

There are numerous reasons to support an employee who has a drug or alcohol misuse issue, outside of the natural moral obligation of doing the right thing. 

There may be a legal duty on you as an employer to try to help your staff overcome a drug or alcohol issue. Drug and alcohol problems are recognised medical issues and anyone suffering with them deserves help in the same way that anyone with any other type or medical problem does.

Relevant legislation includes the Health and Safety at Work Act, Transport and Works Act and Misuse of Drugs Act.

Of course, there are also legal and moral duties to protect other staff members and the public from someone who may be misusing alcohol or drugs. It may be necessary to suspend or redeploy a member of staff who is facing drug or alcohol issues in order to achieve this.

Dismissing someone due to drug or alcohol misuse with no attempt to offer them help and support, may lead to an unfair dismissal ruling at an employment tribunal.

Studies have indicated that the workplace itself, the stresses and pressures of work and workplace culture can lead to increased levels of alcohol or drug consumption.

In addition to that, offering the right kind of help and support may allow you to retain the member of staff, which can be extremely valuable both in terms of keeping their skills and experience within the business and avoiding a costly recruitment process.

We deal directly with employers who want to get proper and effective help for staff members and we see the results of that level of real, sincere support. Businesses retain people in this way, change lives and engender loyalty. Staff can see through token efforts to offer help and support and they appreciate employers who go the extra mile for them.

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Call us confidentially at any time to speak to a member of our team.

Call us now: 0330 111 2015
How to help an employee with a drug or alcohol problem
Article Name
How to help an employee with a drug or alcohol problem
Find out how to help an employee with a drug or alcohol problem at Delamere. Having an understanding & informed attitude towards alcohol & drug misuse is the first step.
Publisher Name
Delamere Rehab
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About the author: David Williams

David is our General Manager at Delamere. David brings a huge amount of experience from both the hospitality and healthcare sectors. Find out more about David on our team page.

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